Human Factors Psychology: All You Need to Know

Other · 5 min read · Nov 09, 2022
human factors psychology

Human factors psychology is gaining much attention in the professional world, and for good reasons. The field has grown in the recent past, attracting the attention of numerous students plotting their future.

The impact of human factors psychology is far reaching in society, and there is a pressing need for many human factors psychologists. This article gives the nitty gritty concerning human factors psychology and what it takes to be a competent human factors psychologist. 

Definitions

The primary focus of human factors psychology is to create and improve equipment, products, machines, and working environments to supplement human capabilities and aggrandize safety and performance through various research methods.

Therefore, human factors psychology is an interdisciplinary psychology area that spans a broad range of interesting topics like human computer interaction, human error, workplace safety concerns, product design, and inventions that solve real world problems. So, the field is not limited to psychology but utilizes aspects of engineering psychology, industrial organizational psychology, and other related fields.

It is worth noting the difference between human factors psychology and ergonomics because some use them interchangeably, yet they are different. Ergonomics has a main focus on work processes and movements.

However, human factors psychology integrates ergonomics, engineering, and psychology to understand how people interact with processes and products. In summary, human factors psychology is devoted to understanding how people interact with their work environments to increase productivity and maximize performance.

Human factors psychologist inspecting a piece of wired equipment.

What human factors psychology is not

Now that we have established what human factors psychology is let us specify what it is not to prevent any confusion. It differs from mainstream and clinical psychology because human factors psychologists mainly conduct research in the field.

As such, the field has nothing to do with psychological disorders, counseling, or mental health. Therefore, those looking to get into such fields should not confuse them with human factors psychology.  

History of human factors psychology

The human psychology field started during World War II. At the time, many weapons and tools were ineffective because of poor designs. Additionally, the airplanes used in World War II were not fully reliable.

A broad range of experts came together to attempt to address the safety concerns in these airplanes. The human factors psychologists improved airplane safety by improving the design, staff processes, and communication.

The results following World War II have made the theories of human factors psychology find application in other fields like engineering, product design, computing, military, manufacturing, and other related fields.

Human factors psychologists have since then perfected the art of using these psychological theories to reduce human error and improve human machine interaction and human performance.

What human factors psychologists do      

Should you get into this field, your work will most often be hands-on and you will conduct human factors research. Human factors specialists spend time carrying out complex tests and applying their findings to complement human capabilities.

Human factors psychology research improves basic knowledge about human behavior, human capabilities, industrial organizational psychology, attention span, and the causes of human error. Hence, research by human factors psychologists is aimed at solving real world problems by using the knowledge to increase safety, maximize the usability of equipment, adopt better processes, and eliminate human errors.

Typically, a human factor psychologist will do research on a given product, for example, how mobile phones affect health administration in health care settings. After performing research on how employees use mobile phones and their effect on their health administration, the psychologist can redesign the health care process to improve worker and patient safety.

As a result, human factor psychologists apply knowledge gained from research to minimize errors and improve performance when humans interact with machines.

The other major role played by a human factor psychologist is developing training programs that are used in industrial settings to improve workplace environments. As a human factors psychologist, you will also evaluate the design of various products and propose design changes to improve performance, user-friendliness, or effectiveness.

Human factors psychologists work in an interdisciplinary settings with other professionals to help them increase safety, production, and performance in their work.

The difference with other areas of psychology

Most areas of psychology are driven by academic research in university settings. However, in this field, psychologists work hands-on in conducting research on the field. With the aim of providing real world solutions to problems, human factors psychologists spend much time trying to understand human behavior and how it relates to workplace performance and human machine interaction.

Accordingly, it does not involve the high intensity of academic research in other fields of psychology. Instead, it involves hands-on research in various work environments.

Where will you work?

There is a broad range of opportunities for you to work as a human factors psychologist since human factors psychology is applicable in any field involving people working with products, tools, machines, and computers.

Most human factors psychologists work with government agencies or with private corporations. Some government offices where you might work include State and Federal government agencies like nuclear power plants. Additionally, you might work in private corporations in fields like health care, computer science, automotive, and aerospace industry.

A human factors psychologist might also work in fields focused on aviation psychology, design world, cognitive ergonomics, cognitive psychology, occupational safety, and engineering psychology. Human factors psychologists help workers in these fields to have training programs that promote safety while using complex systems.

Areas of specialization

Human factors psychologists can specialize in a specific area of their choosing. Some of the areas of specialization include:

  • User-experience engineering: using research to improve product design so that users have a better experience.
  • Error prevention: focused on preventing human errors while humans interact with machines.
  • Product design: offering insights to improve usability, effectiveness, and productivity of consumer products.
  • Cognitive ergonomics: matching consumer products to the cognitive capability of the consumers.
  • Usability: increasing the usability of consumer products, design processes, and safety procedures.
  • Human computer interaction: limiting errors made during human computer interaction.
Human factors psychologists doing research on some white paper.

Why choose this field?

There are many reasons for you to choose this field and study human factors psychology. Foremost, human factors specialists in this field help others by designing products that maximize usability and increase performance.

So, if you like to positively impact the lives of others, this field is meant for you. Secondly, the field improves safety in workplace environments. Therefore, it is bound to give you self-satisfaction with your role in these environments.

Moreover, human factors psychology is a multidisciplinary field that allows one to work with experts in other industries. Therefore, it is well suited for collaboration, exposure, and teamwork, which is essential in the current job market. Therefore, it is the perfect fit for someone who wants good adaptability to today’s job market. 

Another reason to select this field is the interesting topics you will cover and the interesting nature of the work you will do. Some of the topics covered in this field include perception, engineering psychology, cognitive psychology, human error, occupational safety, aviation psychology, how to conduct research, psychological theories, human capabilities, human limitations, cognition, employee training, and graphic design.

The other argument to select this field is the available opportunities. This field is growing and presents a plethora of opportunities for all who venture into it.

Lastly, the challenges faced in this field while trying to maximize usability, increase safety, and improve product design will keep the creative mind engaged and improve feeling contented and proud of your achievements. Evidently, there are numerous reasons why you should select human factors psychology as your field.

Salary

Professionals with a bachelor’s degree earn between $48,000 and $78,000 annually, depending on the field they are employed in. Those with a master’s degree earn more, averaging about $179,000 annually. 

Education requirements

For most entry-level positions in this field, a bachelor’s degree is required. However, it is also acceptable to have a bachelor’s degree in any other psychology field and have a master’s degree specific to this area of study.

Where to start

For one considering the field, the best place to start is to enroll in one of the accredited institutions offering this program. A good example is Clemson University in North Carolina, which offers both bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in human factors psychology.

As our world is becoming more an more reliant on the help from machines, tools and computers to complete complex tasks, human factors as a career is becoming all the more relevant and the demand for such specialists is likely to grow in the near future. So, this could be your perfect chance to enter a new meaningful career!

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Jaap Brian profile picture
Jaap Brian
A highly passionate aviator, with a solid background in aeronautical engineering. His journey to writing about aviation topics is founded on sharing insights into aviation safety and technical aircraft performance – a journey that is 6+ years and counting.

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